Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

December 11, 1922 – August 22, 2007
March 28, 2008


I love her stories, which I still teach in my classes, and her pacifist activism was an absolute inspiration.

Peace to Grace Paley and much gratitude.


Interview at Salon.

Another interview at Salon.

NY Times on Paley’s books.

Listen to Paley read and a conversation at UPENN.


“Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.”

“You know the mind is an astonishing, long-living, erotic thing.”

“. . . people will sometimes say, ‘Why don’t you write more politics?’ And I have to explain to them that writing the lives of women is politics.”

–Grace Paley


2 Responses to “December 11, 1922 – August 22, 2007”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    August 24th, 2007 at 12:08 pm eHey….she made the yahoo headlines yesterday.
    Any excerpts of her poetry?
  2. Amy King Says:
    August 24th, 2007 at 7:35 pm eI didn’t really follow her poetry much. I was a fan of her short stories … I’m sure her verse is online.

The Environmentalist?
March 27, 2008


Does the poem below evidence Günter Grass’s predilection for the environmentalist movement?

Finnish librarian, Petri Liukkonen, has curated and written the Pegasos Authors’ Calendar (Kirjailijakalenteri) for many moons now, a spot I go to for succinct author, theorist, & philosopher introductions. The following was lifted from said spot:

[Günter Grass] has once said, that writers, by giving us ‘’mouth-to-ear artificial respiration,’’ help keep humanity alive.

“You can begin a story in the middle and create confusion by striking out boldly, backward and forward. You can be modern, put aside all mention of time and distance and, when the whole thing is done, proclaim, or let someone else proclaim, that you have finally, at the last moment, solved the space-time problem. Or you can declare at the very start that it’s impossible to write a novel nowadays, but then, behind your own back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels” (from The Tin Drum).



Looked for pebbles and found
the surviving glove
made of synthetic pulp.

Every finger spoke.
No, not those daft yachtman’s yarns
but of what will remain:

our litter
beaches long.
While we, mislaid,
will be nobody’s loss.

Günter Grass


4 Responses to “The Environmentalist?”

  1. Jim K. Says:
    July 18th, 2007 at 4:29 pm eHaving spent a lot of time beachcombing in the mid-70s,
    I can vouch for the abstract trash (then especially).
    Interesting…I actually read three things lit up by comparison..
    1) “our litter // beaches long”
    2) “while we, mislaid, will be nobody’s loss”

    (2) is especially interesting right now, both as our species perhaps going wrong,
    (time and evolution filling in the dents)
    and as the growing anonymity of the individual in the roar of the Web
    (making the speckness and lostness more plain to see now).

    Things and times have refrains and redecorated pasts under the Tao.

  2. Helen Losse Says:
    July 18th, 2007 at 11:30 pm eHi Amy, I’ve read this half a dozen times and still don’t know what to comment, except that I really like this poem. Every word seems necessary and in its right position. Grass does begin in the middle and create confusion while tying things up very well. Thanks for posting this.
  3. Gary Says:
    July 19th, 2007 at 4:33 pm eGreat poem, Amy. Thanks for posting.
  4. Amy King Says:
    July 19th, 2007 at 9:59 pm eMost welcome, All! Glad you enjoyed it~

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
March 26, 2008


First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons—but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world—a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring—this lover can be a man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.

Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be a stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else—but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

–excerpt from THE BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE by Carson McCullers

7 Responses to “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe”

  1. ashok Says:
    March 14th, 2007 at 7:19 pm eHmm. The excerpt is beautiful, but I think love isn’t quite as relativist or subjective. It may start anywhere, but we can judge how it evolves as good/bad, no? (Perhaps in some cases it might not be said to evolve.)

    I don’t want to posit anything just yet, just want to ask questions and hover over the topic and see if I understand everything going on. I do think I’m going to go over Auden’s “Are You There?” again, though.

  2. Jim K. Says:
    March 15th, 2007 at 12:05 am eI think this is the love that wants, the crush usually. And as such,
    it can’t help but be completely subjective. One is simply taken
    over by it. A ‘lover’s’ love is a one form. There are others,
    but that rather brilliant passage makes it pretty clear to me.

    This is one source of the blues, the craving that doesn’t fit
    your life but happens, as when BB King sings:
    “…I been down-hearted baby, ever since the day we met..”.

    Consider Eddie Albert’s tune that Ray Charles made famous:

    You give your hand to me
    And then you say, “Hello.”
    And I can hardly speak,
    My heart is beating so.
    And anyone can tell
    You think you know me well.
    Well, you don’t know me.
    (no you don’t know me)

    No you don’t know the one
    Who dreams of you at night;
    And longs to kiss your lips
    And longs to hold you tight
    Oh I’m just a friend.
    That’s all I’ve ever been.
    Cause you don’t know me.
    (no you don’t know me)

    For I never knew the art of making love,
    Though my heart aches with love for you.
    Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by.
    A chance that you might love me too.
    (love me too)

    That’s the kind of love at the Sad Cafe,
    the kind Carson was talking about.

  3. ashok Says:
    March 15th, 2007 at 8:13 pm eI’m not sure – even as I preach political moderation, and the use of reason as a restraint – that I can conceive of a love that doesn’t want. Even the thirst for knowledge directed towards the highest things I could say is a “lust” for knowledge (cf. Plato, Symposium).

    Thanks for helping me think through this, though. I like struggling with words, but sometimes things hit too close to home.

  4. Jim K. Says:
    March 15th, 2007 at 10:48 pm eThere are different strains that can blend, to be sure.
    Those advanced matching services talk about two basic
    forms of attraction,
    physical attraction, and ‘coupling’. Physical being …well, wanting to
    do physical things, and coupling being wanting to be with someone
    for all time, that pair-bonding thing. They happen together sometimes,
    but the coupling can be the subject of ‘crushes’, and focuses on a
    way someone changes their face or says words or moves. We feel we
    know someone, have a soul-mate. McCullers’ crystal insight is
    to point directly at the sad assymetry of it, usually.

    Those types are, of course, seperate from what type of person the
    attraction is fixed on. Many times, that is simply the same pallet
    on a different canvas. Mysteries that could call more for wonder than fear.

  5. John Baker Says:
    March 20th, 2007 at 2:38 pm eThanks for this. I read the book a long time ago, so long that I didn’t even recognize the style. But, with the excerpt you gave us, I remembered why it is that I think of the book often, year after year. Since that first reading it has always been near.
  6. sandra simonds Says:
    March 20th, 2007 at 5:20 pm efantastic. really made my day to read this.


  7. Patricia Says:
    March 24th, 2007 at 3:34 pm eI watched the video of Ballad of the Sad Cafe three times. The first time
    I laughed at the seemingly ignorant and dirt poor little boring town and its simple townsfolk. But as I watched the mood set in of the drama in human interactions which happens anywhere on the planet. I began to place myself into the conflicts of the main characters.

    The third time I saw the video my sentiment about it became much more pensive and felt especially regretful for Amelia as she was humiliated by fighting with a man in front the entire town. If she had any bit of femininity and womanhood for anyone, she lost it forever in that incident.

    Amelia wound up sorry and pitiful at the end of the story; and it brings to view how life is mundane – but when love or desire enter into it,
    life can become traumatic and enduring in sadness.

“…wealth shields from immediate judgment, takes you out of the subway crowd to enclose you in a chromium-plated automobile, isolates you in huge protected lawns, Pullmans, first-class cabins. Wealth, cher ami, is not quite acquittal, but reprieve, and that’s always worth taking.”
March 25, 2008


Many moons ago, I read Albert Camus’ novel, THE FALL. A few moons later, I watched Kryzsztof Kieslowski’s film, “Red“, which was from his “Three Colors” triology. I immediately thought (& surely I’m not alone) that Kieslowski modeled one of his main characters on Camus’ judge:

“But equally real to me was the world of books, the world of all sorts of adventures. It’s not true that it was only a world of Camus and Dostoevsky. They were part of it, but it was also the world of cowboys and Indians, Tom Sawyer and all those heroes. It was bad literature as well as good, and I read both with equal interest.” (Kieslowski 1993, 5)

Randomly, I located a used copy of “Red” recently and will spend the day re-visiting it, after many years. It’s one of my favorite films, though I haven’t seen it in such a terribly long time. Similarly, I haven’t taken a peek at the pages of THE FALL for at least a decade. I’m getting old?

I ask you, fair people, what better way to spend this simple cold Brooklyn day than delving into the thick, rich complexities of two minds that took on the big guns of human behavior and turned them into stories?

“Red is very complex in its construction. I don’t know whether we’ll manage to get my idea across on the screen. [. . .] I’ve got everything I need to put across what I want to say, which is really quite complicated. Therefore, if the idea I’ve got in mind doesn’t come across, it meant that either film is too primitive a medium to support such a construction or that all of us put together haven’t got enough talent for it.” – Krzysztof Kieslowski, June 1993 (1)

And from the judge, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, in Camus’ THE FALL:

“Today we are always ready to judge as we are to fornicate.” [77]

“People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.” [80-81]

“My profession satisfied most happily that vocation for summits. It cleansed me of all bitterness toward my neighbor, whom I always obligated without ever owing him anything. It set me above the judge whom I judged in turn, above the defendant whom I forced to gratitude. Just weigh this, cher monsieur, I lived with impunity. I was concerned in no judgment; I was not on the floor of the courtroom, but somewhere in the flies like those gods that are brought down by machinery from time to time to transfigure the action and give it its meaning. After all, living aloft is still the only way of being seen and hailed by the largest number.” [25]

“In short, you see, the essential is to cease being free and to obey, in repentance, a greater rogue than oneself. When we are all guilty, that will be democracy. Without countering, cher ami, that we must take revenge for having to die alone. Death is solitary, whereas slavery is collective.” [136]


Imagination in its fallen mode tends to construct explanations. It is unwilling to live without a comprehensive vision of an underlying reality in terms of which to understand things that an innocent imagination finds awesome and prefers to leave in shadow. It does not so much celebrate awesome facts as it first projects and then discovers meanings it takes to be more fundamental. It fails to notice its own activity in constructing the synthesis with which it is so impressed and so tends to become frozen in its new perspective. Though it often recommends itself as consciousness raising, it simply replaces a naive dogmatism with another dogmatism that is more subtle and more dangerous. [William James O’Brien, Stories to the Dark: Explorations in Religious Imagination 24, 48 (New York: Paulist Press, 1977)]

9 Responses to ““…wealth shields from immediate judgment, takes you out of the subway crowd to enclose you in a chromium-plated automobile, isolates you in huge protected lawns, Pullmans, first-class cabins. Wealth, cher ami, is not quite acquittal, but reprieve, and that’s always worth taking.””

  1. Jim K Says:
    January 27th, 2007 at 7:48 pm eIntense James quote: so much in such a little package.
    Most of what we see in popular opinion these days is
    arguments that stain their own premises to attain the
    predetermined goal. BS applied to the self. A bit scary.
    I like the connection to imagination, though.
    A reminder that not all imagination is the growth kind.
    The “Fallen form of imagination” may be the most common.
  2. Jim K Says:
    January 27th, 2007 at 7:49 pm eOops….I was talkiing about the William James O’Brien quote.
  3. Tim Caldwell Says:
    January 28th, 2007 at 5:44 pm eAmy,

    I recently discovered your writings. One very bright spot during a dark time.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.



  4. Sam Rasnake Says:
    January 29th, 2007 at 2:34 pm eKieslowski is one of my favoirite directors. Red is such a wonderful film. That is an interesting connection you’re making Amy.
  5. Amy King Says:
    January 30th, 2007 at 1:18 am eThank you: Jim, Tim, and Sam!

    I really wanted to type your names out in a row!

  6. Tim Caldwell Says:
    January 30th, 2007 at 5:03 am eAmy,

    I popped in to read some more of your entries, and saw your comment with those three single syllable names lined up, and i could hear the start of a Dr. Seuss story…

    You’ve got me interested in checking out “Red.”


  7. Amy King Says:
    January 30th, 2007 at 11:45 pm eHa! Another guy emailed that he was going to post about this entry, but he didn’t — woulda been good though: his name is Dan. Thanks, Jim, Tim, Sam, and Dan! Can’t plan that~

    Reading The Fall along with seeing Red would be the height — but is time-consuming. So see Red, at least! And his other work like The Decalogue, which is even more time consuming, but addictively-so. Enjoy!

  8. Sam Rasnake Says:
    February 1st, 2007 at 12:25 pm eDon’t forget The Double Life of Véronique, Amy. Major, major. Although… Decalogue is my favorite.
  9. Shitebot » Blog Archive » Overflowing Toilets From Above Says:
    February 10th, 2007 at 12:15 pm e[…] Not to be too much of a whiner, but I would have preferred to sleep in a little this morning. On the bright side, I recently started Netflix and this week I have watched the first two films of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy. After I finish the laundry, I’ll probably put on some coffee and watch the final installment, “Red.” I have to admit that these films never made it on my radar. I know Kieslowski from “The Decalogue.” He’s a brilliant filmmaker. I have to credit Amy King, a local poet, for directing me to these films. She wrote recently about “Red” in her blog. Check out her writing. […]

Vita is Life in Latin
March 23, 2008


It is a well known fact that Virginia Woolf wrote her gender-bending novel, Orlando, as a study of Vita Sackville-West in the waning part of their romantic relationship (they remained steadfast friends until Woolf’s death).

Woolf was probably better able to scrutinize Sackville-West as a character and bring Orlando to life as West began to disappoint the Bloomsbury novelist by having affairs. Nonetheless, the love between them ultimately never suffered.

Orlando is a testament to Woolf’s literary talents as well as her devotion and acuity of observation where Vita was concerned. Both novelists inspired each other’s writing in ways that their novels recount for us now.

Vita wrote to Virginia, “This is perhaps not what you call an intimate letter? But I disagree. The book that one is writing at the moment is really the most intimate part of one, and the part about which one preserves the strictest secrecy. What is love or sex, compared with the intensity of the life one leads in one’s book? A trifle; a thing to be shouted from the hilltops. Therefore if I write to you about my book, I am writing really intimately, though it may not be very interestingly … But you would rather I told you I missed Potto and Virginia, those silky creatures … and so I do …” [“Potto” was Virginia’s pug.]

Likewise, Woolf’s novels often deal with life directly (fiction being truer to life), and so on this gorgeous day in Baltimore, I offer up one more excerpt from Orlando to send you on your way:

“Let us go then, exploring, this summer morning, when all are adoring the plum blossom and the bee. And humming and hawing, let us ask of the starling (who is a more sociable bird than the lark) what he may think on the brink of the dust bin, whence he picks among the sticks combings of scullion’s hair. What’s life, we ask, leaning on the farmyard gate; Life, Life, Life! cries the bird, as if he had heard …”

2 Responses to “Vita is Life in Latin”

  1. Robin Says:
    June 7th, 2006 at 3:12 pm eGreat post – thanks – enjoyed it.
  2. Amy King Says:
    June 9th, 2006 at 6:54 pm eYou’re welcome!

We Leave All Over
March 22, 2008


What do you do with a genius student? You publish her work on your blog and count yourself among the first. You publish it even if it’s a first draft. You’re too impatient to wait for the finished product. The semester’s end is a week away, and that’s more than a weekend. I don’t know where I’ll be then. So enjoy now.

We Leave All Over

He had it sitting on the edge of his palm. It was balanced there like an absolutely perfectly-balanced thing. And I am saying, Ben, I do not have the words to tell you what that looks like right now. So Ben smiles. And he takes that balanced thing off of his palm, and he puts it back into his pocket. And he sort of does this thing where he rests his head right in his hand. And he looks so comfortable. And I want to be comfortable like Ben, but I don’t know how to balance anything anywhere.

He tried to teach me once. But I got angry. I told him, Ben, I do not even have the words to show you my anger right now. And Ben smiled.

There are these lights that look like magnets to Ben’s shoulder tops. They are racing right by the train windows. I’m not sure I have the words, but it’s like if someone could spread light around like when you put a glassful of water on a wooden table top. And you like, push the glass across the polished surface, and you see the water get stuck on the shiny parts. It’s like that, only faster over Ben’s shoulders. Like he’s holding light or something. And I want to tell Ben, but I can’t.

I can never tell Ben anything. But I listen when he tells me things.

Like that time he took me to that rooftop, and he asked me to look at that bridge that took those cars somewhere. And everything is supposed to be smaller from high up, but in a way, it still looked enormous. And I kind of wanted to throw up and die there, but in a good way.

He told me stuff then. And I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Here is Ben, and he is actually putting words together to form sentences to save on shelves made out of air that exists right in front of both of us. And he’s telling me things I want to hear about, but all I can think is Should I fold my hands or pretend I have an itch on my collarbone? Maybe I should just completely sit on both hands so I can actually listen to what he is saying. But he’s done before I can decide, and that’s it.

I can spend most of tonight trying to get Ben to say something I want to hear, but it won’t be the same. It’s like that light he has all over his shoulders. It can be repeated but not recreated.

And I kind of guess a lot of things are like that. Like entire years out of your life when you never had to think once about what to do with your hands. Those kinds of things you can’t recreate. Because once big things explode into your little years, you have to think about things like your hands and other things, like what you should do when you see someone who you know, but you don’t really know. I consider waving, but my hands come back into play, so I pretend I don’t see them.

But if Ben were to see people he knew, but not really, he’d probably wave and say hello. Maybe even at the same time.

I have completely forgotten where Ben is taking me on this train. If I don’t wake him up soon, I won’t know where to get off. I can try to ask the conductor, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a sentence out of the information I have.

Ben gave me a gift once. It was this book meant for children, but he liked the pictures in it, so he got it for me anyway. And the story goes: there’s this boy who has a stuffed bear. I forget how, but the bear gets lost somehow. And the little boy is upset for awhile, but he makes friends with his new neighbor, and he sort of forgets all about the bear.

I am constantly asking Ben how the little boy managed to forget all about his bear.

I’m getting off the train now. I left Ben asleep in a train seat. This stop is probably wrong, but I can always walk or call a taxi once I realize which direction I need to go in.

Ben said the little boy never forgot completely about his bear. He said he probably thinks about him a lot when he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He said there are parts of ourselves we leave all over, but we never forget completely.

5 Responses to “We Leave All Over”

  1. Lissa Says:
    December 16th, 2005 at 4:57 pm eLovely!
    Very Eternal Sunshine/Spotless Mind.
  2. Didi Says:
    December 16th, 2005 at 9:57 pm eLets publish it on the magazine as well. Have her send me the finished piece.


  3. patry Says:
    December 17th, 2005 at 3:15 am eGreat stuff. Lucky student; lucky teacher.
  4. evie Says:
    December 20th, 2005 at 2:20 am ei was totally charmed by this poem! does she ever have the words!


  5. justin sirois Says:
    December 23rd, 2005 at 7:36 pm egreat piece, i’d love to read more.

Benderize Yourself
March 21, 2008


It’s time to give some overdue, major props to Ms. Aimee Bender. I’ve been following her for years now. Yes, years. She is one of the finest short story writers going today. I usually mix it up in my literature classes by teaching Bender along with Tobias Wolff for the short story component (& a few others). I figure, if I can turn the students on with some scintillating, well-crafted material, I’ve done something. And Ms. Bender does indeed turn people on.

I read some short stories online long ago at sites like Boldtype (”Call My Name” works surprisingly well in class) and Tarpaulin Sky, and then ran out and bought her book, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.

I also read her novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own, but frankly (& no offense to Ms. Bender), I think she should stick with the short story. She is, afterall, a master of the medium.

Just today I have learned that a new book of short stories, Willful Creatures, arrived in stores on August 16th. I don’t know who to compare Ms. Bender’s work to, but after a quick search, I found that Alan Cheuse at NPR decrees that Bender “writes in the tradition of Gertrude Stein.” No wonder I’ve been following her around like a puppy on crack. I’ll just be going to the store to get my copy now …